How North Carolina Community Colleges Provide Child Care Support

Community colleges can play a role in helping families afford and access care as well as strengthening the early childhood teacher pipeline.

Posters created by student parents during a focus group at Forsyth Technical Community College. (Liz Bell/EducationNC)

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In the midst of a child care crisis, community colleges continue to serve as an important link between families and child care access, and between communities and the early childhood teachers they need.

Any long-term child care solution also will inherently involve community colleges, said Robin Warfield, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on the intersection of early childhood education and community colleges.

“They are inextricably linked,” said Warfield, who has taught as an adjunct professor in early childhood at Alamance Community College, and now serves as the birth-to-3 coaching manager for the NC Birth to Three Quality Initiative at the Child Care Services Association.

Economists have described the child care industry as a broken market, because child care businesses cannot produce the desired product (high-quality early care and education) at a price that is affordable for most parents. Instead, parents struggle to afford care while teachers are paid some of the lowest wages of any industry. As federal relief funding for child care runs out on June 30 — and the legislature is still debating whether to extend assistance, and by how much — those challenges could get worse.

Moving forward, colleges “absolutely need to be a part of the discussion,” Warfield said.

Reducing barriers

Community colleges provide support on both ends of the struggle: helping families afford and access care, and also strengthening the early childhood teacher pipeline.

From their inception, Warfield said, training the early childhood teacher workforce has “just always been part of what community colleges do,” she said.

Students at Haywood Community College’s Regional Center for the Advancement of Children. Liz Bell/EducationNC

Colleges also use grant funding through state and federal sources, as well as private funds, to help student parents afford care. A handful of North Carolina’s community colleges also operate on-site child care programs. According to EdNC’s research, as well as the research of NC State University’s Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research, 13 colleges have active on-site programs. Four more have closed an on-site program in the last four years.

“It just alleviates that huge barrier that can end up getting in the way and keeping them from being able to be successful in school,” said Crystal Harvey, director of Carol L. Danforth Early Childhood Lab at Forsyth Technical Community College, which serves preschool children and prioritizes serving the children of students.

The lab school also provides hands-on learning for students in Forsyth Tech’s early childhood department.

“They are receiving top-tier support, mentoring, and access to high-quality practices,” Harvey said.

Colleges’ on-site models vary across the state. Haywood Community College hosts a regional hub through its Regional Center for the Advancement of Children. Cape Fear Community College operates both a licensed full-day program at Bonnie Sanders Burney Child Development Center and a drop-in program for parents looking for more flexible options. Halifax Community College hosts a Head Start program on campus. Sandhills Community College offers drop-in and after-school care for school-age children through a Boys and Girls Club on campus.

Piedmont Community College made changes in recent years to its Child Development Center to stay open for a longer period of the day and to serve wider age ranges. Like the program at Forsyth, it creates learning opportunities for potential early childhood educators as well.

“We had to dig in and figure out some better solutions to make sure that we could continue to provide this service, which is an attractor for employees and students who might have young children, a service for the community, and it’s great for our own early childhood program — our students get to do some of their clinical time in that setting,” Piedmont President Pamela Senegal told EdNC in 2022. “It was just the right thing to do, but we had to figure out how to do it in a way that was financially sustainable.”

A student at Piedmont Community College’s on-site program. (Mebane Rash/EducationNC)

Programs pull from a variety of sources to operate their programs, including the state’s child care subsidy program, private donations, state community college appropriations, and private tuition.

The on-site programs’ funding challenges reflect the broader challenges of the industry, Warfield said.

“They’re encountering the same problems that all facilities are encountering, which is they can’t retain teachers,” she said. Outside funding is needed to attract students to early childhood preparation programs and to support on-site and off-site programs, she said.

“I think they all need to be able to have on-site, high-quality child care,” Warfield said, “that is meant for the students and it’s also available to the community. And I think it needs to be its own thing, too. This just needs to happen for our economy.”

Here are the community colleges that EdNC knows are operating on-site programs:

  • Alamance Community College
  • Cape Fear Community College
  • Davidson-Davie Community College
  • Halifax Community College
  • Haywood Community College
  • Johnston Community College
  • McDowell Technical Community College
  • Nash Community College
  • Piedmont Community College
  • Sandhills Community College
  • Southeastern Community College
  • Vance-Granville Community College
  • Wayne Community College

An underrepresented population

Beyond its lab school, Forsyth Tech is leading the way in holistically supporting student parents. It is one of five colleges across the country chosen to participate in New America’s Child Care for Student Parents Cohort, which is researching innovative practices and policies to support student parents.

The leader of Forsyth’s efforts, Shanta Reddick, has first-hand experience of the challenges.

“I’ve been the single mom that worked two jobs, had four kids, balancing it all and still finishing it,” said Reddick, director of student outreach at Forsyth, in an interview with EdNC in April. “So I’ve been through the challenges, and if I would have had an inkling of the support that we’re able to give, I knew what that could do.”

Reddick’s story, her example, and her work have made the difference between failure and success at school for students like Antoine Lash, a student with six children.

Seeing that Reddick could overcome challenges made Lash realize that “it’s a possibility,” he said. “When you see that you’ve got people along your way that can show you things like that, it’s 10 times better.”

The initiative, called SPARC (Student Parent Advocacy Resource Center), helps students afford care at the lab school and at private programs in the community, connects students to drop-in care through a partnership with a local provider, hosts student parent expos, and creates spaces for student parents to build community and shape the school’s policies.

The program uses funding from the state’s community college child care grant program, the John M Belk Endowment’s NC Reconnect effort, and the Child Care Access Means Parents In School (CCAMPIS) federal grant.

SPARC also provides flexible support in moments of need. Lash recalled a moment when he was a couple of months behind paying for child care. He called Reddick for support.

“Next thing I know, they were like, ‘Your balance is being paid,'” Lash said. “It’s as streamlined as that.”

Reddick said she realized the need for better support for student parents during her time as a navigator for Forsyth Tech Cares, the college’s holistic support program that helps students meet their basic needs and connect to all kinds of community resources.

“I started seeing, they’re an underrepresented population,” Reddick said. “I started looking at the numbers. They’re making up 30% of our college campuses, and nobody is doing anything.”

Shanta Reddick, director of student outreach at Forsyth, talks about the focus groups she held with student parents. Liz Bell/EducationNC

She started by surveying student parents and asking about their experiences and needs. She got responses from 135 students, then held focus groups to dive deeper into their experiences. She heard familiar challenges from her own background: impossible hours, stresses, and expensive and hard-to-find child care.

“If they have the supports, they’ll finish quicker and faster than anyone else that’s coming into your college,” Reddick said.

She decided to create a Student Parent Council. “The goal is to give them a voice,” she said.

Reddick wants to build a library of books and resources for children and for parents, establish drop-in care on campus, and secure a physical location for SPARC.

Maya Clay, the mother of an 18-month-old with another baby due in August, had become pregnant while at a four-year university in Maryland. She had overcome great obstacles to get where she was after navigating dyslexia throughout school, she said.

She was thriving in school, almost in the nursing program, and maintaining a 3.5 GPA. Then she got pregnant.

“For a while I had this depression, because it’s like, ‘I don’t want to stop. I have so much potential going on,'” Clay said. She couldn’t find resources to support her pregnancy, and she couldn’t find child care access. She came home to Forsyth County, defeated.

She then looked at Forsyth Tech’s website and saw an advertisement for child care support through the college. She put in her information but didn’t think much about it, she said.

Then she got a call from Reddick.

“I was like, ‘Yes, I need help. It was that door, like hope brightening my future — helping me brighten myself up again. Because it was like, ‘I still have a chance.’ She gave me that fighting chance.”

Clay was able to return to in-person classes and is working toward a degree in biotechnology.

When she got pregnant this time around, Clay said, she was nervous. Her first pregnancy came with sacrifices to her goals. Instead, she was met with congratulations from Reddick.

“Being able to have somebody in your corner, who just wasn’t there to support you financially but emotionally, and like making sure you’re successful, and being able to link you to other resources, makes being a student parent here so different,” she said.

This article first appeared on EducationNC and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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